Seven fingerprints on a purported al-Qaida training camp application came back as matches to alleged terror operative Jose Padilla.
But the expert, Secret Service fingerprint specialist John Morgan, also acknowledged under defense questioning that there was no way to be certain when the fingerprints were placed on the "mujahedeen data form" recovered by the CIA in Afghanistan.
Defense lawyers theorize that Padilla may have touched the form during his long military confinement at a Navy jail in Charleston, South Carolina. He was held for 3 1/2 years as an enemy combatant before he was indicted on criminal charges in Miami in late 2005.
Prosecutors have opened the trial of Padilla and two co-defendants by focusing on the form, which they claim Padilla completed in July 2000 to attend the al-Farooq terrorist training camp. The form is critical because it potentially links the three defendants to al-Qaida as one of the Islamic extremist groups they are accused of conspiring to support.
Although the form was found in a binder containing dozens of others in late 2001, it was not analyzed for Padilla's fingerprints until August 2006, Morgan said. The fingerprints appear only on the front of the first page and back of the last page, possibly indicating that the form had been simply handed to Padilla at some point, defense lawyers say.
"Is it also possible that these prints were made by someone who was writing on the document?" asked prosecutor John Shipley.
"Yes, that is possible," Morgan answered, adding that fingerprints are not always left behind when someone touches a paper. "It can go both ways."
Earlier this week, a CIA officer testified that the form was brought in December 2001 to an agency installation in Kandahar, Afghanistan, by a local man who said he had found thousands of documents from what he believed was an al-Qaida safe house after its occupants fled. The binder containing the form was later turned over to the FBI.
Yahya Goba, a member of the "Lackawanna Six" group of men in upstate New York who pleaded guilty to terrorism support charges, is expected to testify in the Padilla case that he filled out an identical form for the same camp, but at a later date. Goba is serving a 10-year prison sentence and is cooperating with federal prosecutors.
Padilla, a 36-year-old U.S. citizen and former Chicago gang member, was arrested in May 2002 at O'Hare International Airport on suspicion that he was part of an al-Qaida plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a U.S. city. Those allegations are not part of the Miami indictment, which claims he was part of a North American support cell for Muslim radicals around the world.
Padilla was added to the existing Miami case in November 2005 during a legal battle over the president's wartime powers to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens. He and co-defendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi face life in prison if convicted.